Honorary Doctorates for Professor Dinah Birch CBE and Gabriel Meyer

Speakers and groups in academic robes at degree ceremony.

This week, the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, was conferred on Professor Dinah Birch CBE and Gabriel Meyer, as part of the 2022 Graduation Ceremonies at Lancaster University. Professor Sandra Kemp (Director, The Ruskin) gave the orations and presented both graduands to the Chancellor in recognition of their contributions, locally and globally, and in particular to Ruskin scholarship and engagement.

Dinah Birch is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cultural Engagement and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2016 Birthday Honours for services to higher education, literary scholarship, and cultural life.

From her appointment in 1980 as the first female Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford University, Professor Birch has acted as a role model for women in the education and cultural sectors. She has devoted her career to addressing gender and educational inequalities, particularly through making women more visible across the full spectrum of higher education.

She is a leading academic and literary scholar, specialising in Victorian literature and poetry; and has published on topics ranging from gender and genre, biography and autobiography, to 19th-century mythography and the relation between literature and the visual arts, to contemporary fiction and poetry. On John Ruskin, Birch writes, ‘Equally consistent is his claim that the learning that matters most is not gained from the exceptional or dramatic or spectacular, but from everyday experience, available to all: a bramble hedge or a hawthorn thicket: “Before teaching them to name what they see let us begin by teaching them to see it”.’

At Lancaster University, we owe Professor Birch our sincere thanks, for Chairing the Ruskin Advisory Board from 2017-2020, as we embarked on the ambitious project to save the leading museum collection of works by Ruskin from being split up and sold, and to ensure the collection’s permanent home here.

Gabriel Meyer is an award-winning writer, journalist and scholar, who has made it his life’s work to document the human cost of the major political and religious conflicts of our time, to international acclaim.

A hallmark of Meyer’s career is his intellectual openness, grounded in his humanitarianism, and his faith. He has maintained an interest in education and dialogue with future generations of writers, campaigners and scholars. Alongside print journalism and scholarly publication, Meyer has worked across creative writing, music composition and film. He has published poetry, including the book-length poetic cycle A Map of Shadows, and two novels. His most recent nonfiction work, The Testimony of Stones, a “biography” of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher has seen Meyer lead an unprecedented level of on-site fieldwork.

In 1998, the year that The Ruskin opened at Lancaster University, on the other side of the Atlantic, Gabriel Meyer was beginning his association with the historic Ruskin Art Club. Formed in 1888, the RAC has been an influential presence in Los Angeles and across the nation, sponsoring the first public art exhibition in Los Angeles. Meyer later became Director and now Executive Director of the RAC. Under his leadership and alongside The Ruskin at Lancaster, the RAC has become part of a global nexus of organisations revisioning Ruskin’s insights for the issues and debates of today, and the future.

We were delighted to recognise Professor Dinah Birch and Gabriel Meyer’s contribution to the global study and legacy of John Ruskin worldwide, and at Lancaster, this week; and welcome both as honorary graduates of Lancaster University.

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